by Greg Hopp

The plans had been made. I was going to fly out with Indianapolis area resident and member Jim Barger and his wife on Thursday. We'd agreed on a meeting place and were all set. Unfortunately, off to their east, Columbus, Ohio was IFR most of the day and I scrubbed the flight. Mr. & Mrs. Barger saw some clear skies and launched for Clinton. I waited another day.

Friday morning dawned clear and we scrambled to the airport. Clyde supervised as I cleaned the windshield. After rotating and reaching about 50' AGL, I had a bird strike. Compared to the first one I experienced as a student, I considered this one to rate as a minor bang. I had had a visual on the birds, and saw this one zig, not zag, so I knew it was toast. The simple systems of the150 all read normal, but I couldn't visualize the left leading edge

completely and I knew the right thing to do was to come around and put her down to ensure there was no damage to the 'craft.

A little streak and a feather were all the evidence that someone had given his all in the name of aviation, unfortunately, on my wing. 'Don't they see me coming? The wing span is 32 feet!' I quickly re-launched into a blue sky.

All was well until I was 30 miles inside the Indiana border, when we went to a scattered ceiling. Well, scattered isn't a ceiling by definition, but it was growing skuzzier and that's what I had my eye on. I am not instrument rated.

Fortunately my first fuel stop was just ahead and I let down into the airport area at Rochester, Fulton County, RCR just 30 minutes after passing Bryan Oetting's home airport at Portland. After a fuel stop and a check of WX on the radar, I could see the stuff coming from the west into Clinton, Iowa. I decided to press on. In what became the theme of the day, a gyrocopter in the sky gave me a sense of the cloud height, and so I knew I could go back up and take a peek out west.

Thirty miles westbound I found myself in much improved and workable conditions, VFR between a scattered deck and a solid overcast. It was approaching noon now and the sun was creating quite a bit of haze, and the temp/dew point wasn't much help. My plan since launching from my last stop at Rochester was to try to get to Whiteside, just 30 NM East of CWI, if I could make it.

An hour and a half later, the darkening clouds ahead told me my ad hoc stopping point, Joliet Regional, was probably a good idea. I couldn't raise EFAS even though I was at 4500' MSL, so with the clouds ahead of me, I was not sure what was out there developing. Where's the NEXRAD when you need it?

I hadn't planned for Joliet (JOT) when I took off, but I had my AFD and so was prepared when I determined I needed an alternate. It was too late when I realized the runway was either grass at an unfamiliar field or a 2900' x-wind concrete runway at an unfamiliar field. As I approached to land on runway 30, I couldn't help but notice the Citgo gasoline station complete with a roof over the pumps, at the departure end of the runway, just across a tiny access road. 'Geesh, good planning! Guess I better put this bird down on the first try.' I mean I know I would have been all right, but I was getting a bit tired and the winds were really starting to make the crosswind landing interesting.

Safely on the ground and refueled, I headed inside to check the weather to my West. In a word, it sucked. Things weren't looking good that Friday afternoon, and a call to FSS confirmed my suspicions. A high overcast just 90 miles east devolved into low ceilings and steady rain over Clinton. I tied down on the ramp. A call to Jim Barger, whose cell phone number I had with me, confirmed the news. CWI was unreachable at present.

Back inside the FBO, I poked around a bit and met some nice folks there. Three guys in a straight tail 172, three more guys in a Navion. There was a Bo driver , a Mooney and a corporate pilot who knew how to stick it on in a King Air. I also met a military pilot whom I had overheard say he flies SAR for OSH during the week. This was certainly interesting, so we chatted a bit. After he told me for the third time he was a "military pilot," I took the bait and asked him what he flew. His reply was a terse, "Can't tell you. National security." Go figure.

All these nice people arrived and departed and there I sat. The picture all afternoon never changed. A great big comma of convective weather hung over southern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa. Clinton was hidden somewhere under those dark green, yellow and occasionally red bands on the radar.

I was hungry and the FBO had the typical loaner car. A dark green Taurus that reeked of cigarettes. I was directed to a restaurant that turned out to be a bar. The kind of place where the barmaid knows everyone as Sweetheart. Everyone in the joint was watching Jerry Springer on the idiot box. On screen people willingly revealed their dirty laundry to millions of people. Two hand models (women who model rings and nail polish and whose only compelling feature is their hands) competed for the affection of a pimp by brawling on stage. Once their skit was complete, a newlywed couple came on to reveal that the wife led her husband to believe their unborn child was his. Well, that wasn't quite true as it turned out. Her obvious swelling was simply extra weight; for she wasn't pregnant and in fact was unable to conceive. 'Good lord,' I thought as I finished my sandwich. Springer is taped in Chicago and it must have been some perverse kind of civic pride that led these adult men and women to subject themselves to that nonsense.

Back at the airport, I continued to monitor the weather all afternoon. Finally, about 5:30 I called a hotel to secure a room. Then I went outside to move 91X to another tie-down spot for the night. Overhead I could see commercial traffic at 5000+ AGL lining up inbound for O'Hare, so I knew there was ceiling enough for me to get along. Throughout the day I had called Jim Barger, who was on the ground at Clinton, for a weather report. Time and time again he reported rain and overcast at less than a thousand.

As I prepared the bird for the night, I checked her over carefully as I stalled for time before calling a taxi. "All those planes that had left earlier and not returned. The overhead traffic with plenty of ceiling and viz. I hated to tie down but the weather was still terrible at Clinton. Maybe I should just take a look?" These were the thoughts tumbling in my head as I simultaneously pre-flighted and tied down.

Just then, my mobile rang. It was Jim calling to say, "Hey, guess what? The clouds have moved out of here and I can see sun coming out and blue sky!" That was all the encouragement I needed and the sign I was looking for.

It was only 6 PM and I had three hours of daylight left to finish the 90-mile trip. A quick call to flight service confirmed the weather was finally blowing off to the southeast and clearing. The weatherman said I might encounter some light precip but nothing to worry about. I launched into gray but excellent VFR conditions.

The last leg of the trip was underway. After nearly six hours on the ground, we were winging Westbound again.

The next 40 NM were in light rain, getting the bird cleaned up for our arrival. As we flew along at 4500', clouds below me marched to the southeast, just as forecast. I was still in rain, but it was beginning to brighten ahead.

Finally, just 30 miles east of Clinton, the sun came out; I had made it!

Clyde, my steadfast companion, was again enjoying this part of the trip and the anticipation was quickly building in the cockpit.

Soon, I terminated with Quad Cities and switched to the NOTAM'd frequency. No joy. It was now 8 PM and apparently the air boss had quit for the night. Who could blame him? A quick flip over to CTAF and I could hear the chatter of familiar voices that created the mini-chaos of Clinton as our beloved 150's took off and landed.

As I followed Gordon Ellis' lead in the golf cart, a number of airplanes, (what I later learned was our fleet of 150/150's), was taking off to begin a series of low passes over the airport. Gorgon welcomed me and directed me to a spot at the end of the row behind the hangars. Lori had heard me land and announce that Clyde was safe, so she came out to greet me with a warm hug. Clyde jumped in her golf cart, glad to be back with his Mom, and that was the last I saw of him.

I was late to assume my role as transportation coordinator, and duty called. It was good to be home in Clinton, Iowa.

Greg Hopp
1967 150G N4691X
Columbus, OH

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